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Debt burden crippling Pacific Island community

Published: 6:34PM Saturday November 24, 2012 Source: ONE News

Members of the Pacific Island community in New Zealand are burdened by crippling levels of personal debt, a report says.

Figures released by the Families Commission show that 885 low-income Pacific families owe more than $24 million - more than $27,000 per family.

Most of the money problems stem from student loan schemes, church donations and the predatory behaviour of loan sharks.

Felisi Bestwick borrowed $10,000 from a fringe lender to buy a car. Over the years she has paid back $17,000 but still owes $27,000 because of interest charges, repossession fees and court costs.

In total it will cost her $44,000 and the car has been repossessed.

"It affects us emotionally, physically, financially," she said. "And it has had an impact on me and my kids - and for long, long years of struggling to live."

Families Commissioner James Prescott said onerous terms can be included in the fine print of loan contracts.

"Unfortunately, the fine print that comes with a lot of these lending contracts has landed them in a situation where they can't repay, then they go through additional fees of penalties and so on," he said.

Bestwick said: "I have to advise the people of New Zealand - solo mothers like me - think twice before you take a loan."

The Lui family learned that lesson the hard way.

They discovered the car they had bought and struggled to pay off was actually two vehicles welded together.

"Disgusted, really, that people can do that to other people," Gustavia Lui said.

When they complained, the car company insisted they owed even more money and tried to repossess it.

It was only through the intervention of consumer affairs that the car company agreed to compensate them.

"Always read what you sign - that was the biggest lesson I learned in that whole thing," Lui said.

The Families Commission report has found that while people are often unable to seek help for themselves, they welcome help when it is offered.

Felisi Bestwick, for one, is now working with a budget advisor to get her life back on track.